County Weighs Options Presented To Address ‘Noncompetitive’ Fees

BERLIN – Worcester County leaders continue to explore ways to decrease the cost of sewer service near Samuel Bowen Boulevard along Route 50 in an effort to attract commercial development.

Now that the problem of how to bring sewer service to the commercial properties near Walmart has been solved with the expansion of the Riddle Farm wastewater treatment plant, officials are trying to figure out how to keep EDUs (Equivalent Dwelling Units) affordable for developers.

“What’s clear to me is those EDUs are noncompetitive in our market,” said Bill Badger, the county’s director of economic development.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners, Badger introduced representatives from Municap Inc., a consulting firm hired to investigate ways to mitigate the high costs of the EDUs available through the Riddle Farm treatment plant. The 267 EDUs available cost $23,535 each.

Badger, who worked on several large projects in Anne Arundel County before coming to the Eastern Shore, said he wanted to make sure officials were aware of the special taxing treatments that could be used to encourage development.

“I felt it was important you get all the facts,” he said.

The EDU cost in the Riddle Farm service area, $23,535, is broken down into two parts, according to Keenan Rice, president of Municap. The county receives $4,926 of it as a service area equity contribution while the project’s private partner, Goody Taylor, would collect $18,609. In 2013, Goody Taylor agreed to expand the treatment plant in exchange for the right to sell the commercial EDUs.

Rice said he saw three options for the county. Officials can leave the $23,535 fee as it is, reduce it so developers only have to pay the $18,609, or create a special tax that would enable developers to pay the county’s portion of the EDU fee over time.

Rice said that latter two options could make commercial projects in the area, some of which required a substantial number of EDUs, more affordable.

“That might accelerate development in the area,” he said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked why the $18,609 portion of the EDU fee couldn’t be adjusted.

“My observation is the county’s being asked to alleviate the cost of EDUs to potential developers,” he said. “If we’re partnering with Goody Taylor what are they doing?”

Rice said that had not been addressed in his company’s study.

Sonny Bloxom, the county’s attorney, said that while Worcester County already had an agreement with Goody Taylor, it wasn’t unusual for parties in a partnership to both give something to make a project work. He added, however, that the company was motivated to sell the EDUs because if they weren’t sold within a certain amount of time that sewer capacity would become property of the county.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic suggested sending the results of the study on to the county’s sewer committee.

“This is a lot to evaluate,” he said.